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#SaturdaySongs No.6 – All Right Now

November 26, 2016 25 comments

I didn’t know it at the time but when I wrote Summer of ’69 back in February I was, in a way, starting what has become this new series of #SaturdaySongs. I followed it up with a companion piece – Born to Be Wild(ish) – in August, and with today’s song I am in effect completing a trilogy about the days when I was a mere 16 years old.

In those previous posts I described how I worked for the first time through the long school summer holiday in 1969, saving up to buy a motor scooter, and how this opened up a time of freedom and enjoyment for me. I described joining the local scooter club and going on long weekend rides – this took me through the winter of 69-70 and right through the summer of 1970. I also joined the local youth centre in Dover, which was based at a place called Centre 365. As well as running youth nights the Centre also provided support for the needy and the homeless. It was a great place to be at that time and, as one of the managers was a friend of my father it felt like home for me. If you’ve read Summer of ’69 you’ll know that Dad left home at the end of the week in which I bought my scooter, and I think my younger self was looking for somewhere welcoming where I could just enjoy myself, away from the new responsibilities I had taken on as the ‘man of the house’ supporting Mum.

Today’s song is this:

This was released in May 1970. It spent 16 weeks in the UK charts but never actually made it to the top: it reached as far as no.2, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Five of these were behind Mungo Bloody Jerry, the other behind Elvis in his latterday bloated crooner days. Even back then the British public couldn’t be trusted to make the right choices! But the song was the soundtrack to my summer that year, and whenever I hear it – I play it often – I’m taken back to those days. For me, 1970 was the only year in a five year spell in which I had no public exams at school, so the pressure was off a lot. The school’s own exams were much better! It was the year when England failed to defend the World Cup, but I stayed up late on many nights watching the matches being broadcast live from Mexico – it was the year of Gordon Banks’ wonder save against the great Pele, and of the amazing semi-final between Italy and West Germany that seemed to go on forever, and finished 4-3 to Italy, with Franz Beckenbauer playing with one arm in a sling. To this day, that stands as the best game I’ve ever seen, for drama. Well, so my increasingly hazy memory tells me, anyway.

You’ll see that the performance I chose to share was from Free’s appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. This was arranged as a British answer to the legendary Woodstock, which had taken place the previous year and had helped change the face of live rock music performance in a way that had hitherto been unknown. The IoW Festival was promoted well in advance, and a mate and I hatched a plan to go to it. Like most plans dreamed up in our youth, however, it fell apart in spectacular fashion, along with the friendship. Thinking about it, I’ve long preferred indoor events anyway – the acoustics are better and I don’t like huge crowds!

The success of All Right Now is credited with getting the band their spot in the Festival, at which they played to over 600,000 people. Astonishing numbers, and you only get a small sense of that from the video. It was the song that gave them their chart breakthrough too and the album from which it came – Fire and Water – which was their third of six studio albums in their four years together, was their most successful. Forget the sales figures: it is one of the few albums which has enjoyed the ultimate accolade of having been bought by me on vinyl, cassette and CD! I still play it regularly – it is a brilliant blues-rock album, and has stood the test of time well over the 46 years since its release. Wow! Where did that time go?

The joys of that summer were, sadly, never to be repeated for me. Later that year Mum sold the family home and moved us back to where she had spent her childhood, and the geography just didn’t work any more in respect of the scooter club or Centre 365. Still, it was one of the best summers I’ve ever had – it was all right then and it’s still All Right Now 😊

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What’s A Pilcher?

March 16, 2016 19 comments

A few weeks ago I posted Say Your Name, which was an updated version of a previous post about the meaning of my Christian name. I thought then that it might be a good idea to do a companion piece on my surname, as it has a little history attached to it.

Pilch, in Norwich, as modelled by my daughter Katy

Pilch, in Norwich, as modelled by my daughter Katy

There’s a major clue to my surname in the title of this piece – just in case you hadn’t noticed. The name ‘Pilcher’ is largely native to East Kent, the part of England from which I come. I’ve not seen a recent telephone directory but when I was growing up there were two pages of us. You’d be hard-pressed to find more than five Pilchers in most other directories. The shorter version, ‘Pilch’ is common in East Anglia, and is to this day the name of a store in Norwich (‘A Fine City’). Many UK surnames which end in ‘-er’ derive from a trade: Baker and Butcher are obvious examples of this. Less obvious examples are Cooper, a maker of barrels, and Fletcher – the man who made arrows. Or you could have Turner – unsurprisingly, this was the man who worked the lathe. Or for a really obvious one, try ‘Parker’ – yes, it really does mean the man who looks after the park. At its most basic, Pilcher is no different from these: he was the man who made a Pilch. You could be forgiven for not knowing what one of these is, or was, as the term – and the item of clothing to which it refers – has long gone out of fashion. A pilch was a kind of loincloth, usually made of animal skin with the fur still on it, and use of the name can be traced back as far as the 13th century. In all probability it is even older than that, but I haven’t yet been able to find an episode of What Not To Wear or How To Look Good Naked(ish) that goes far enough back to enlighten me on this. It is thought that it derives from the pre-7th century Olde English word ‘pylece,’ which means a skin or hide. It is recorded in several other forms including Pelcher, Pilchere, and the French Pelchaud, Pelcheur, and Pelchat, and is clearly an Anglo-French surname. Given the proximity of France to Dover, where I was born, this perhaps explains why there are so many Pilchers in that part of the country. As well as the maker and seller of pilches, the name could also be given to someone who wore them. We don’t appear to have a modern day equivalent of this, unless you know of anyone called Nappyer or Trusser. And for American readers, I don’t think Diaper counts!

My surname?

My surname?

In later years “pilcher” apparently became a popular term of abuse, being associated with the unrelated word “pilch”, meaning to steal, and the equally unrelated noun “pilchard”, a type of fish. I’ve mentioned before that I was known as Pilch by many schoolfriends, but also Glen, because of this, which was heavily advertised at that time:

Whilst some name-holders may originate from habitual use of these various terms, I like to think that my family origins belong to a noble tradesman rather than a thief!

As I mentioned, the name goes back as far as the 13th century: recordings of the surname include Hugh Pilchere, who appears in the tax registers (known as the Feet of Fines) of Cambridgeshire in 1275, and Henry le Pilchere in the Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire in the same year. Church records list the marriage of Henry Pilcher to Jane Empsley on June 2nd 1572 in Borden, Kent, whilst in France Henri Pelchat appears in the town of Bourg L’Eveque, department of Maine-et -Loire, on July 26th 1708. The first known recorded spelling of the family name is that of Mabilia Pullchare, which was dated 1214, in the “Feet of Fines of Essex”, during the reign of King John, 1199 – 1216. (I’m indebted to http://www.surnamedb.com for this information).

Whilst my name isn’t particularly special or famous, I rather like it and the fact that it has so much history attached to it. The only famous Pilcher that I know of is the author Rosamunde Pilcher, but no doubt there are others. After all, we’ve had long enough to make our mark in the world! Why not try following your own name back into history? You may find something interesting and surprising that you hadn’t come across before. And I set you the challenge of finding a name that has a meaning going back further than the 7th century!

Fings Ain’t What They Used T’Be

February 2, 2016 28 comments

A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked English students aged 16-19 as the worst of 23 developed nations in literacy, and 22nd of the 23 in numeracy. However, those of us who are already retired or approaching retirement were among the highest-ranked in both categories. Whilst this may not come as a surprise to those of us who have for a long time believed that educational standards in this country have been declining, the huge difference between today’s youth and us oldies is, frankly, staggering! Whether or not we are right to do so, we trace the beginnings of this back to the 1960s and 70s, when traditional education methods were deemed to be inappropriate for the modern world, and ‘trendy’ new styles were adopted. This included the removal of most of the grammar schools in England, as these were seen as an outdated symbol of elitism: for those unaware of how the system used to work, in our final year at primary school we all took the 11+ exam, which determined whether our secondary education would be at a grammar or secondary modern school. Gradually, this system was replaced by comprehensive schools, which were supposed to remove the stigma of being judged brainy or thick at the age of 11, although many of them found a way to be selective and some counties never gave up their grammar schools. Amongst these was Kent, where I was born and brought up.

Temple Ewell CofE Primary School

Temple Ewell CofE Primary School

Aside from the obvious ‘how could it all go so wrong’ thoughts, this report got me thinking back to my childhood and my schooling. I attended a traditional primary school: Temple Ewell Church of England Primary School. This was actually in the next village to the one where I lived – Whitfield – as we didn’t have a primary school then, although one was built some years later. The school had around 140 pupils and catered for ages 5 to 11, so we didn’t suffer from huge class sizes, as has become the norm more recently. Each year had a class teacher, who taught all subjects, and took a real interest in every child. My ex-wife works in a school and I know that teaching staff today are equally dedicated and that model still remains, by and large, but there was something different about it in 1958, when I started. But was this that the school itself was so different, or is it (more likely) that our lives have changed so much since then? I have memories of the early years at school when, if the teacher had to leave the room, we were made to cross our arms across our desk and rest our head on them, in total silence. Does that still happen? Could it? We were required to learn our ‘times tables’ by rote – I don’t know if this is still done but suspect that, from the OECD’s findings, this has been lost. Should it matter that I can instantly tell you what 8 times 9 is, or 11 times 11? I think it should, as the use of numbers underpins so much of what we do in everyday life, not just in education. For example, a good grasp of mental arithmetic is useful in comparing the value of pack sizes when you are shopping. Likewise, a good understanding of our own language is vital in so many ways, not least in our ability to enjoy the written word in all its forms. The only homework I can ever recall being given at primary school was reading, such was the importance placed on it. This continues, but it seems that somewhere along the way the ability to learn from this has become lost. And don’t get me started on secondary education! I went to Dover Grammar School for Boys, which still exists despite the ravages of various governments, and am eternally grateful for the depth and breadth of education it gave me.

Dover Grammar School for Boys

Dover Grammar School for Boys

This feeling of nostalgia isn’t just for my schooldays. Our whole lifestyle was so different back then. Technology hadn’t taken over our lives in the way it has now: my parents first acquired a TV set in early 1959, when I was 5, and we had the choice of 2 channels, in black and white, and broadcasting for a short while around lunchtime and from around 5pm to 11pm in the evening, except at weekends when we could watch a variety of sports all Saturday afternoon. National radio was equally limited, and the only commercial radio of note, before the pirate stations, was dear old Radio Luxembourg, which sounded like it was being broadcast from the North Pole in the middle of a hurricane. Or maybe that was just our radio? We didn’t have a telephone for a number of years, and even then it had to be on a line shared with a neighbour, as the local telephone exchange couldn’t cope with the demand. Convenience foods didn’t really take off until the 1960s when we were given all sorts of new treats to try: does anyone remember the introduction of packets of dried peas, which you poured into boiling water to resuscitate them? They were branded ‘Surprise,’ leading to the obvious schoolchildren’s joke: ‘What do you get with Surprise Peas? Wet legs.’ There are many more examples, both of inventions in food preparation and weak jokes, but I won’t go on. Maybe I’ll do another post some time – there is enough material for a series on this!

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the way that technology in all fields has enhanced our lives. I own a fair range of gadgets, both for entertainment and for domestic use, and wouldn’t be without them. And I know that I’m putting on rose-tinted specs to look back to a time which had many things wrong with it, particularly in terms of social inequality. But the more I see reports like the OECD’s the more I think about what we have lost. It is difficult to make a fair comparison between the 5 year old me that first went to school and today’s wizened 62 year old cynic, but I view those days as representing a much more innocent age. I was quite typical of my time, in that I was less wise to the world at 13 than most of today’s 5 year olds seem to be, and it isn’t too melodramatic (I think) to say that I grieve for this, in a way. Is that stupid? Shouldn’t I accept that times change and that we move with them? Probably, but it doesn’t stop me looking back at my younger self and wishing that the world could still have some of the things it had then.

Even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!

{PS The title for this is borrowed from a hit song from 1960, thus proving that there’s nothing new in looking wistfully back!}

{PPS 8 x 9 = 72, 11 x 11 = 121, in case you were wondering…..}

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